Rahul Gandhi plans travelling to the United States to deliver a lecture at the Berkeley University and then to the Silicon Valley to acquaint himself with advances being made in the field of ‘artificial intelligence’. This will be the Congress Vice-President’s second visit abroad in rapid succession, and comes on the heels of his weeklong visit to Norway earlier this month.
At a time when Congress party is facing two crucial elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat and when the government should be made to answer some tough questions on demonetisation, the Congress’s interests would be better served if its Vice-President leads from the front, rather than delivering and attending lectures abroad.
Rahul has already travelled abroad eight times this year. While there is nothing in the book that prevents leaders of political parties from travelling abroad, the timing and the frequency of these visits do raise questions, about one’s priorities. Even his die-hard supporters have, in private, begun questioning the wisdom of the Gandhi scion.
It was with great fanfare that Rahul Gandhi along with Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Sachin Pilot travelled to Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh in the wake of the police firing that killed several farmers. This was a tailor-made issue for the Congress party to highlight the government’s failure, both in the state and at the Centre. Congress supporters had hoped that the party would make this into a big pro-framer issue through a sustained agitation-led movement on the ground. Rahul made a high voltage visit to the area, courted arrest, generated a fair amount of traction, but just as it appeared that the party and its leader had finally got their act together, he decided to spend time with his grandmother in Italy.
The steam that the party has built over the issue dissipated soon after that. It was a huge opportunity lost. MP and Rajasthan, the states where Congress fancies its chances, will go to polls next year in the autumn. However, Congress’ inability to set its house in order and to mount a campaign against the sitting chief ministers threatens to nullify the advantage that could have come its way on account of the failings of the state governments.
Rahul is expected to formally take charge and become Congress president at some point later this year. That notwithstanding, most of the major decisions are routed through him. His party workers would much rather prefer that Rahul Gandhi spends a greater amount of time not just interacting with the party leaders, but also usher in the changes that he has only spoken about. Above all, the cadres would want Rahul to devote his entire attention to build up a sustained movement against the government. For the past six months there has been talk of sending either Kamal Nath or Jyotiraditya Scindia to head the party unit in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress VP’s delay in settling the leadership issue has led to a sense of drift in the state unit.
Rahul’s frequent trips abroad have raised questions not just from his opponents but also from independent analysts about lack of consistency and inability to take an issue to its logical end. “I have no doubts about his determination to fight this government, but now he needs to do it in a sustained manner.” says former JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav. The two leaders have, off late, been interacting frequently, following Yadav’s break with Nitish Kumar.
The Congress party is going through the worst phase in its 132 years old history. It has only 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha, an all-time low. Politically and geographically its area of influence is shrinking dramatically, and today it has state governments in only 5 states. India’s Grand Old Party faces an existentialist crisis. Rahul Gandhi needs to realize that the battle for ‘who governs the country’ for the next five years will be decided in the dust bowls of India and not in Berkely and Silicon Valley.